By Elizabeth Carter, Ph.D. | Contributing writer
Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton has transformed its business and entrepreneurship class into a flagship project-based-learning curriculum called “Ready, Set, Launch.” Through this new curriculum, the school has embraced a can-do mindset of empowering students to think creatively and express themselves in their own voice.
The curriculum began with the hiring of faculty member and Seton alum Nicholas Wan, an internationally recognized curriculum designer and businessman. He believes that if we demonstrate a “life does not present us problems, it presents us with challenges” mindset, students will learn the creative and critical-thinking skills necessary to excel in life. He designed the curriculum in response to questions that many educators grapple with including how we can help our students cultivate a love for learning and think creatively “outside the box.” Mr. Wan shares his teaching philosophy:
“I have always had a particular teaching philosophy when working with young people. I don’t view them any different from me just because of my age. I remember when I was a high school student. I often worked with adults on marquee projects for the school system and I saw the immense value-add that my youth offered. I promised myself that whenever I am their age, I will fervently seek the outlook and opinions of the youth because they intuitively understand the trends. While it is my role as their instructor to teach them, I do not believe it is my role to teach at them. The latter approach lacks humility. I want to first build rapport with my students so that they trust me, and part of that process means letting them know that I am there to equip them.”
Wan uses project-based learning and explains that it is different from the learning in the traditional classroom environment. Instead of memorizing basic knowledge and concepts, he says, the students are given a real-world challenge to address either as a group or alone if they prefer. The real-world challenge can be summarized in a “driving question” such as the one Seton students are exploring this year: “How can I create a profitable scaled business?” Wan teaches students about how human psychology impacts buying decisions and how brands prime customers and create value in the market. Another key is creating products and services that are highly marketable. The students learn from some of the world’s most recognizable brands such as Apple, Tesla and Amazon and have Zoom conferences with real-world business people. Every week the students can apply the skills they acquire to their actual business. Christian Taber, a ninth-grade student, remarked:
“ What I love about this class is how each part of the project we are actively working on dictates what the day’s lecture will be about, not the other way around. It’s all based on the project, and therefore we never know what the class may be about every day. We will get into a discussion about a certain aspect of the project and the lecture will break down the necessary knowledge to complete the task. In doing so, we’re gaining real-life experience and immediately applying what we have learned.”
When students are empowered and treated like adults, they also learn valuable skills that a textbook could never provide them. Skills such as time management, how to resolve conflict amongst a team, and how to make others feel included while winning them over to your ideas. The teacher constantly provides support and feedback so that the students feel proud of their work. Wan has seen this approach work firsthand and the students’ eyes light up when they realize that the quality and viability of their business can compete with anyone—regardless of age. Jeanna Witteman, an 11th-grade student, explained:
“This class and the project has been an innovative and enjoyable way to learn the world of business. It has allowed us to freely contribute and let our ideas flow without judgment in a gratifying environment. The culture of our class makes us comfortable with failure, knowing we can fall back on each other and Mr. Wan. His classes may seem like fun but there is a lot of serious learning going on. This is such an amazing opportunity for us to get involved with our school and our community while still learning how to start and run a business. Each one of us feels like an integral part of the process and I know every one of us will be the most confident and capable people coming out of Mr. Wan’s class.
Once students realize that the world is impacted by the ideas of people no different than them, it gives them a transformative view on life.”